27 BEST RESTAURANTS

Restaurant write-ups by Ron Ehmke, Elizabeth Licata, and Joe Sweeney.
Photos by Jim Bush, unless otherwise noted.


*
Our Panelists: Spree writers Alan Bedenko, Mark Criden, Bruce Eaton, Joe George, Jessica Keltz, Vicki G. Marshall, Joe Sweeney, and Margaret M. Toohey; Spree Staffers Jade Chen, Ron Ehmke, and Elizabeth Licata; and guest panelists Mike Andrzejweski, (former chef/owner of Tsunami), and Lauren E. Rozanski. Because we have so many great restaurants in WNY, the panel had a difficult job choosing twenty-seven. We’d love to hear from you about our choices, and will publish a selection of your responses in the July/August issue. Email elicata@buffalospree.com.

Let the games begin! Though many city magazines have long presented “best restaurant” issues as part of their service to readers, this is our first: a Spree panel’s* choice, in alphabetical order, of the twenty-seven best restaurants in Western New York. Our criteria? From roadside diner to white tablecloth—where do you bring out-of-town guests, to give them a great meal and an authentic taste of Buffalo’s unique cuisine scene?

$: entrées average under $10
$$: entrées average between $10-$20
$$$: entrées average over $20



1. Anchor Bar
best restaurants
Making the wing pilgrimage

It may be both a blessing and a curse, but it’s certainly a fact: the Anchor Bar is synonymous with Buffalo. And rightfully so, seeing that the place is symbolic of so many things that make the Queen City great, like humble, blue-collar values, a family tradition, and the ability to make something special out of nothing at all. After all, before Teressa Bellissimo invented Buffalo wings, what sounded appetizing about the puny limbs of a flightless bird?

Recommended:
Uh, the chicken wings, preferably hot. If you’re ordering suicidal, you’re probably the kind of person who craves attention, which simply isn’t attractive.

What makes it a Buffalo classic:
If you don’t know, you’re a total poseur. Go back to Schenectady, punk.

If only …
… the outside world’s view of the typical Buffalonian didn’t involve beer slurping, deep-throated belching, and the inhaling of chicken wings. People forget that we drink lots of wine and hard liquor and eat tons of beef as well.

Entrée price range: $$
1047 Main Street, 886-8920, www.anchorbar.com.
—J.S.



2. Buffalo Chophouse
best restaurants
A luxe steakhouse of our own

This is power dining: an opulent setting, strong drinks, and huge cuts of meat. The Buffalo Chophouse is the centerpiece of owner Mark Croce’s Restaurant Row, adding diversity to an area dominated by watering holes for twenty-somethings.

Recommended:
The rib steak is arguably the most flavorful cut of beef on the menu. Among the sides, sautéed spinach with garlic and perfectly done asparagus are consistent crowd-pleasers.

The scene:
Designer Paul LaMorticella has fitted the place up with heavy draping, red banquettes, upholstered armchairs, and framed reproductions—all the better for diners to feel important and pampered, whether they’re sipping an excellent martini at the bar or tucking into a perfectly-done piece of tenderloin.

The service:
This is one of the few joints in town where a sommelier is usually on hand to discuss your wine selection.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
A perfect complement to the thriving downtown theater scene, the Chophouse is large enough to handle large parties or even private parties—with the urban sophistication lacking in many other restaurants of similar capacity.

If only …
... Sometimes the portions are almost intimidatingly large.

Entrée price range: $$$
282 Franklin, 842-6900, www.buffalochophouse.com.
—E.L.



3. Charlie the Butcher
best restaurants
Nothing to beef about here

From Jane and Michael Stern to Regis and Kathie Lee to Bill and Hillary—Charlie the Butcher has served and wowed them all with his signature sandwiches and comfort cuisine.

Recommended:
The beef on weck

The scene:
The Wehrle location has some picnic benches (listen to 737s roar overhead as you eat) and inside seating, but the other locations are really all about take-out. There is one unique visual icon—the tall sign above the Werhle location with a smiling hard-hatted Charlie and an ever-changing message board. My favorite: “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” Ya gotta love using Joni Mitchell lyrics to sell dead cow.

The service:
Orders are taken and picked up at the counter, with maximum efficiency.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Everything, including the photos of founder Charlie Roesch in his apron and hardhat, the slow-cooked beef, and the red-checked tablecloths.

If only …
... there was still a Broadway Market location.

Entrée price range: $
1065 Wehrle Drive, Williamsville, 633-8330;
295 Main Street Buffalo, 855-8646; also kiosks at Wegman’s and Noco locations, www.charliethebutcher.com.
—E.L.



4. Coda
best restaurants
A philosophy of fine food in Allentown

This tiny restaurant has seen a few incarnations over the past few years, but in late summer 2005, Chef Roo Buckley and his wife Keren took it over and have succeeded in making it one of the most charming and consistently rewarding dining experiences in the city.

Recommended:
The menu changes weekly—think seasonal eating—but not to be missed are the chef’s experimental ice cream flight and his thoughtfully assembled salads.

The scene:
Cozy is the word: the place only seats around forty, but the soft colors and lighting make it intimate and inviting. Think about coming here to try a few glasses of wine before dinner, as well. Buckley consults with several local distributors and has put together an unusual selection, including primitivo from Italy, croze-hermitage from France, and chenin blanc from India.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Surrounded by the gracious Victorian architecture of west Allentown and just steps away from Kleinhans, the Coda is a jewel in a beautiful neighborhood setting.

If only …
Let’s hope this version of the Coda continues its success.

Entrée price range: $$$
350 Pennsylvania Street, 362-0435, www.the-coda.com.
—E.L.



5. Daniel’s
best restaurants
Heavenly in Hamburg

It’s tough to think of a more sumptuous dining experience south of Buffalo than Daniel’s Restaurant in Hamburg. Although everything about the place is upscale (the exquisite French dishes, the place settings, the lighting, the interior design, etc.) it retains a sense of quaintness that makes you feel welcome. As a result, Daniel’s customers are like Led Zeppelin groupies, keeping track of every menu change but never getting tired of the hits. That’s why there are two menus to choose from at Daniel’s—the classic menu (Led Zeppelin II), some of which has remained the same for a decade, and the daily menu (Houses of the Holy), where the chef can experiment with different genres.

Recommended:
Appetizer: Escargot (with tomatoes and baked garlic butter in a homemade pasta sheet)
Entrée: Horseradish crusted salmon fillet with garlic mashed potatoes and leek cream sauce. One of the coolest garnishing touches around: A homemade potato chip with a sprig of parsley burned inside.

The scene:
Set in a cottage-style house with a mere 14 table capacity, Daniel’s is about as intimate as it gets. The total absence of music rounds out the vibe. It’s kinda like eating dinner at mom’s house, if your mom was Chef Daniel Johengen.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
All that loyalty.

Entrée price range: $$$
174 Buffalo Street, Hamburg, 648-6554, daniels-restaurant.com.
—J.S.



6. Gin Gin
best restaurants
A hidden treasure in
the heart of suburbia


At first glance, Gin Gin is not the kind of place that screams Exciting Restaurant Adventure; you could order off a generic English-language menu exactly like those at umpteen other Chinese take-out joints and not notice anything out of the ordinary—beyond the excellent execution of safe bets like shrimp lo mein and orange chicken. No, the thing that has foodies talking is the alternate menu packed with secret specialties, a few of which may not sound appetizing to Westerners (squid chop, pig feet, pork ear) but all of which are faithful to the actual cuisine of China.

Recommended:
Pork with eggplant and cabbage; saltfish with tofu. Or just grab that special menu and ask someone behind the counter for suggestions.

The scene:
Businessmen and students reading Chinese-language newspapers and magazines amidst generic fast-food tables.

Entrée price range: $
3244 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 836-2600.
—R.E.


7. Hutch’s
best restaurants
Reliable excellence

It’s been almost twenty years since Mark Hutchinson opened this unpretentious refuge for consistently great food at the former Brick Alley Bistro in Gates Circle, but longtime regulars as well as newcomers still fill the tables nightly.

Recommended:
Longtime favorites such as the eggplant Napoleon, the seared tuna, and the Thai high calamari are still getting raves.

The scene:
Like the food, the atmosphere is fresh and lively, with exposed brick in the popular bar and a view of Delaware Avenue in the front dining area.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Everyone has fond memories of this location, and somehow Hutch’s manages to build on the nostalgia—as it establishes a new Buffalo tradition.

If only …
... other nearby restaurants could fare as well. Next door, the promising Lotis closed within a year or so of opening, while the venerable Park Lane closed for good in December.

Entrée price range: $$$
1365 Delaware Avenue, 885-0074, www.hutchsrestaurant.com.
—E.L.


8. India Gate
best restaurants
For lunch—how about India?

If you find yourself in the Elmwood Village in the early afternoon, searching aimlessly for a bite, look no further than India Gate, where the lunch buffet is top-notch, adventurous and affordable—just $7.95 for all the savory goodness you can eat.

Recommended:
Bhajia (vegetable fritters), saag paneer (homemade cheese with curried spinach), lamb curry

The scene:
A vegetarian’s dream—plenty of delicious dishes to choose from, an atmosphere with a multicultural edge, and a pleasant change from the plastic fast-food ambience found at some of the other Indian joints.

Service:
If you’re new to Indian food, the India Gate servers are more than happy to answer all your questions, recommend dishes, and refrain from laughing at your pronunciation.

Entrée price range: $$
1116 Elmwood Avenue, 886-4000.
—J.S.


9. Kentucky Greg’s Hickory Pit
best restaurants
BBQ done right

Buffalo has gone barbecue-bonkers lately—a new chain or independent stand pops up every other week—but Kentucky Greg was ahead of the trend and still sets the standard.

Recommended:
The pulled pork sandwich with a side of fried okra, followed up with mile-high mud pie.

The scene:
From the music to the red and white checkered tablecloths, this joint feels like the real thing, not a mass-produced theme-park simulation. The crowd is an appealing mix of city folk and suburbanites, geezers and slackers, young and old.

Service:
Fast and friendly. Expect a visit from Greg himself as he makes the rounds from table to table.

Hot tip:
The catering here has just as good a rep as the sit-down restaurant experience, and includes the same personal touches.

Entrée price range: $$
2186 George Urban Blvd., Depew, 685-6599, kentuckygregs.com.
—R.E.


10. Kuni’s To Go
best restaurants
Back in the (Western) New York groove

The Kuni Sato story to date: opens tiny but much-loved sushi restaurant on Elmwood, closes it and bids farewell to the biz, reopens a takeout-only incarnation a year later.

Recommended:
In addition to the signature rolls (including yellow tail and shrimp) and pieces (we like the spicy tuna and the eel and avocado), try the inare (fried sweet tofu pockets) and an udon noodle soup bordering on perfection.

The scene:
There’s a cool design sense at work here, making the cozy surroundings mighty inviting for a place where you’re not intended to hang out very long.

Service:
The very essence of convenience. Phone in or fax your order or use the downloadable version, swing by to pick it up, and your meal is still fresh by the time you get home.

Entrée price range: $$
226 Lexington Ave., 881-3800, www.kunistogo.com.
—R.E.


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